In today’s global economy, developing business outside the United States is a growth strategy that many firms and companies have already adopted or may be exploring. While the prospects of working with a client in Paris, Rome, or London sounds incredibly exciting and appealing, establishing the right kinds of relationships to enable this kind of activity doesn’t happen by chance. It takes time, diligence, and business acumen to navigate foreign waters.
If your organization already has an international practice in consulting or tax, then you’re working in tried-and-true territory. Otherwise, you may have your work cut out for you, especially if your company is resistant because the partners or directors don’t see the immediate benefit of having an international niche.
Regardless of where you are – even in the middle of Kansas, far from any shoreline – there are many reasons to pursue international work. As a young CPA, what can you do to help your firm increase its scope? Even if you are not directly responsible for business development, approaching your shareholders and partners with these ideas can be beneficial for your career, and will help you gain respect.
Let’s say, for the purposes of this article, that you either currently have an international niche or the one you have needs some attention. The biggest contribution you can make is to help develop the business plan for expansion. Expanding into a foreign market is a big decision that requires a lot of research. Like an MBA project, the business plan will lay out the pros and cons, market information, budget, political issues, and more.
Offer to pull together all the information into a business plan. This process will be difficult, but you’ll get a front-row seat on the decision points and information needed to expand. The trick is to design the plan to fit your firm, its services and goals. Here are some things to consider for the business plan:
Know the strategy behind the decision. Try to get a seat at the table for conversations regarding the strategy behind the growth. If you can’t get the information first hand, volunteer to help the initiative-owner. Ask questions about objectives for growth. Is it access to newer, less expensive sources of capital, a new industry, or a new market? Clarify the objectives so that you can volunteer and help keep the team focused.
- Know the market. Research everything you can about the market in the countries you are looking at: What does the market look like? What is the market need? Who are your target clients? Help quantify these numbers so that it is clear the financial benefit of expanding.
- Know the competition. Part of understanding the market is knowing who is already there. Understand what differentiates your firm from the established competitors. Keep in mind a Big 4 firm may have a presence in one of your foreign country prospects, but may want to outsource certain kinds of work to a firm your size. If this happens, it’s a win-win for everyone.
- Know the politics. Moving into a developing market can be risky, particularly if the politics are unsteady. Understanding legal, financial, labor, and regulatory issues are important when making a decision to expand.
- Know whether the economic infrastructure is secure and reliable. In the digital age, working in an environment where the electricity goes out, the telephone infrastructure is questionable, and wireless Internet is tenuous, at best, leads to significant difficulties in achieving results.
- Know the people. If you really examine your network, you’ll find people who have lived, or do live, in the country you are looking at expanding into. Former classmates, friends of friends, professors, and others … take some time to reach out through your own network and even LinkedIn. Think about people you’ve met at seminars, tradeshows, or even in the elevator; sometimes, “who you know” can make a big difference!
While you may not necessarily be in the driver’s seat on expansion at your firm, you can distinguish yourself by understanding what goes into creating a business plan and speaking up when you have expertise or an idea. Being proactive can only help you when your firm does make the leap.